Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell Book Review
Stories such as Shooting an Elephant and others like it are examples of why the facts about colonialism that are often taught shouldn't be taken at face value. In George Orwell’s, Shooting an Elephant, the reader follows a British officer as he takes on the physically and mentally taxing battle to decide whether or not he should shoot down an upset Elephant. Although he doesn't necessarily depict the Burmese as weak and loss of will to defend themselves. Orwell still makes them lack humanity by illustrating them as simple-minded savages who only want to see violence.
Contrary to what most people believe, according to Orwell’s story, those who are colonized aren't the only ones who seem to be oppressed. As the narrator introduces us to his life, he mentions how hated he is by the Burmese people. “As a police officer, I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so” Pg 1. The narrator almost seems to describe himself as a plaything in the eyes of the Burmese. He gets “targeted” whenever they are given the chance, but it isn't just the narrator. just a sentence earlier the narrator also says, “but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress”. Pg 1. The Burmese people simply do not like the Europeans, and to the surprise of readers are not afraid to show it. They show their disliking toward the Europeans by physically abusing them. They spit on them, taunt them and act like cliche bullies when they know they are safe from danger. This is not the way most people would act toward their oppressors. With so much attitude and fearlessness.
At first, these actions are minute but as the story goes on the torment of the Burmese people continues to weigh down our narrator till he is feeling isolated and with no choice but to shoot the elephant. He spends a long time tossing his ideas back and forth thinking about the consequences that would come about if he both did and didn’t shoot. Ultimately, he was pressured by the continuously growing crowd of Burmese and shot the elephant to maintain his reputation as a fearsome and ruthless officer. “Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd - seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality, I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. Pg 3. The narrator while in his place of power was left defenseless when it came to following his heart and choosing what was right because the bloodthirst and need for violence from the Burmese people were too overwhelming. He was overwhelmed by the thought that if he did not shoot the people would ridicule him beyond reason and he would only be treated worse once they began to see him as a ‘coward’. Not to mention, by using the phrase “yellow faces” the narrator takes away any sort of individuality from the sea of Burmese people and instead groups them all under that name. Right before then the narrator even says that the Burmese seemed almost excited to watch him shoot the elephant. They wanted to see the “ruthless officer shoot down a rampaging elephant”,” I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot.” Pg 3. It comes as a surprise to see colonized people act this way towards those who took their land from them. They act more in a rage than fear, their humanity is taken from them leaving them to be nothing more than a sea of “yellow faces” who yearn to see guns blaze and blood fall.
While Orwell’s story isn't entirely real, it is not completely fictitious either. He took from his own life experiences and included them in his writing. He was able to see the real way the Burmese people acted first hand. In his wiring, despite him not doing it deliberately, he demonized the Burmese people just as much as he demonized the officers. Which makes the story of imperialism a lot less black and white than what it once was.